We do this first by paying for quality. Our Fair Trade policies ensure that we are always offering our suppliers the highest possible prices. During a low coffee market, we often pay 100% above market. Our partners know that in return they need to deliver coffee of the highest quality.
One way we fortify this mutually beneficial arrangement is to maintain unusually close relationships with the cooperatives. Whereas most coffee companies buy their beans from importers (even when buying Fair Trade Certified™ coffee) we carry out our own importing, dealing directly with the co-ops. This fact, and that we work with the same farmer co-ops every year, in some cases going back a decade, affords us an intimate knowledge of each cooperative's coffee harvest.
This familiarity with the cooperatives is further bolstered by a practice of visiting every supplier (in the Americas) regularly. In fact, almost all Equal Exchange employees spend a week with one of our suppliers sometime during their first two years here.
Before export each co-op sends a representative sample which must be approved by our quality control department. If a contracted shipment does not meet our standards, the cooperatives are notified of the detected problems. They must then correct them, and submit new samples. The coffee is sampled again after it arrives in port. Finally, each of our roasted coffees is cupped again before they are allowed to leave the warehouse.